Thursday, May 31, 2012

Carpathian Castle

Another purchase from last years' Book Fair that I finally just got around to reading. For those that are interested, the 2012 Printer's Row Book Fair will be held on June 9th and 10th. James Bond author Raymond Benson will be attending as well.

Carpathian Castle by Jules Verne
Published by Ace Books in 1963

A traveling merchant stops by a small village in the Carpathian Mountains and sells a telescope to a shepherd, in fact, it's the first telescope that anyone in town has ever seen. The village is situated close to an old castle that once belonged to Baron Rodolphe de Gortz, who hasn't been seen for the past twenty years. Enjoying the new telescope, Frik, the shepherd, begins to study the mysterious castle when he notices smoke coming from the castle's keep. Believing that evil spirits are living in the castle, Frik heads back to the village to confer with the towns people on what he has seen. They meet in the village inn where it is decided that Nic Deck, the forester, and Dr. Patak will hike to the castle and find out what is going on. It is then that a mysterious voice warns them not to enter the castle. A search is made of the entire building, but no one is found.

Nic Deck and Dr. Patak, reluctantly I may add, leave early in the morning for the Carpathian castle. The way is treacherous and they don't reach the castle until after nightfall. The drawbridge is up so they are forced to camp outside. Time passes and the castle lights up with an unholy light and the bell in the chapel tower rings frantically until it suddenly stops and it is dark and silent once more.

When morning comes, Nic is determined to enter the castle and searches for a way inside. Seeing none, they go down into the moat and Nic begins to climb the drawbridge chain. Dr. Patak wants to run away, but he is stuck in place as if he is caught in some kind of trap. Nic grabs begins to climb when he is suddenly shocked, looses his grip on the chain and falls to the bottom of the moat, unconscious.  Another day passes and a group of men from the village set out to find Nic and Dr. Patak. They don't make it far when they find the pair making their way back.

While Nic is recovering, a two strangers come to town, Count Franz de Télek and his servant. The count takes a passing interest in the goings on at the castle and tries to convince the townsfolk that it is more likely that a band of brigands has taken up residence in the castle and is using local superstition to keep them all away. That is, until he finds out the castle belongs to Baron de Gortz. For Count de Télek knows that de Gortz is alive and holds him partially responsible for the death of his beloved La Stilla.

The Count stays at the village a few days and then sets out for the castle, unbeknownst to the villagers. Upon his arrival, he sends his servant on to the next town to await his arrival or to fetch the police and come to his rescue. de Télek sees La Stilla on the battlements and believes that she has been kept prisoner by de Gortz for the past five years. He must rescue her at all costs. Finding the drawbridge down, the Count enters the castle. He is so enthralled with his mission, he takes no notice that the gate is shut after his entrance. After being locked in the crypt, Count de Télek escapes and finds his way to de Gortz's private chamber where he hears La Stilla singing. He is prepared to strike de Gortz down and rescue his beloved until he sees her, he drops his weapon and is entranced by her - but it's not her. It's only an illusion created with mirrors which the Baron smashes causing the Count to faint.

de Gortz grabs a mysterious box and runs out of his chamber just as the police arrive. A stray shot destroys the mysterious box, de Gortz blows up the castle and himself with it. It is then that the story sheds its inspiration from Stoker and Leroux and becomes purely Verne as all the supernatural elements are explained away as scientific inventions.

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